Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

Let’s Talk About Visual Novel Accessibility, Shall We? An Update

You may remember a while ago I talked about getting into playing visual novels, and how easy it was to tell when one was accessible or not.  Time for an update, because I’ve been trying to play more commercial VNs (think Doki Doki Literature Club, Long Live the Queen) and we’re running into a lot of problems here.

 

When I first got into VNs, I was only playing free ones. Well, I’ve been looking at ones now that are more commercial, have more to them coding wise than the free ones do, and are longer.  They have the same structure as the free ones – text, pictures, choices to make.  Some of them have an RPG element to them, picking a party and doing battles/making a battle formation, which seems really fun…if it were playable.

 

Almost every commercial quality VN I’ve played is inaccessible in some way.  The self-voicing feature can’t be activated at all, or if it is able to be activated, there’s something in the game that it can’t read.  The battle system in one comes to mind in particular, which definitely was a hope dashing experience when I thought I could play a really cool looking game, only to get to the point in the demo where you make your battle formation, choose items, and have absolutely nothing read because you had to drag and drop, or click with the mouse.  Even when navigating with the keyboard, it would make a clicky noise like it was moving to something, but not say what.  If the text is readable when the actual visual novel part of the game is going, then why is it so hard to make the text to speech work when you’re playing with the actual game mechanics?

 

Some VNs read, but the load and save features do not.  I noticed that while playing Blind Love, a visual novel I’m let’s playing on my YouTube Channel.  A visual novel that says on it’s itch.io page that it’s accessible to the blind, where if you didn’t read that on the page, and didn’t know how to activate self-voicing, you’d be out of luck:  it tells you when to activate self-voicing, and how to, after you’ve gone through the naming the character screen.  I’m glad they made a point to have it be accessible to the blind, but seriously?  Just a little more forethought should go into that sequence of events:  Have a narrator, or one of your voice actors say “Press V to activate self-voicing mode” before the title screen even loads up.  In that game, the main menu where it says “Start New Game” “Load Game”, “Quit Game” doesn’t read at all, so you have to just guesstimate where menu items are and hope you picked the right one.  I just decided to save on different files in that to avoid the possibility of not saving, or loading before saving, because saving and loading in it isn’t reading with self-voicing activated either, and it’s frustrating to see a game saying it’s accessible when the menus aren’t.

 

Doki Doki Literature Club doesn’t even allow self-voicing to activate, and that’s the case with all of the commercial, or commercial quality games I’ve played.  I’m enjoying the free ones, but those are usually short test novels for people who are starting ren’py coding and it just doesn’t satisfy my VN itch.

 

 

So I ask:  Why is it so hard to make a text, picture, music medium accessible, especially when ren’py has self-voicing as an option built into the engine?  Is it really so difficult?  Or do developers seriously not know that blind people would want to read their stories.  I’ve contacted a VN developer before, and they were open to adding accessible features to their VN, so I feel like they just don’t know it’s something they can utilize.  In which, it’s up to blind people to contact said developers if they want a change, and see what they can do.  I plan to do this, and I want to branch out into making my own visual novels that are accessible, with cool stuff in it like the commercial ones have, but that’s very far off in the future I feel.  I’d love to see developers put in the effort to do a bit of research, and integrate the self-voicing feature as an option, so blind players can enjoying the story telling of the genre.  I feel like it wouldn’t take much, but it does take making developers aware of the situation, which is something I plan to do in the near future!

 

And that’s an update on VN accessibility.  If you know of some good accessible VN’s, or some good developers to get in contact with, let me know!  I’d love to start a discussion with some devs, and see what we can do.  The only way we’re going to move things in the right direction is by starting a dialogue with game developers!

Editorials/Opinion Pieces · Video Games

What An Accessible Video Game to the Blind Means to Me

Disclaimer:  This is an opinion piece, I am by no means an expert and am just voicing my viewpoint on the subject.

 

I see it often, as news on Twitter and Facebook.  “A game fully accessible for the blind!” and I go check it out, and it’s a game that’s just a completely black screen, with auditory feedback only.  Perhaps some tactile feedback as well, but to me, those games don’t quite cut it.  I won’t say it’s not accessible, because it is, but at the same time it feels like it’s still limiting the amount that the blind can play with their sighted peers.    Before I get fully into this post though, I’d like to say I’m super happy with the headway accessibility has gotten in the past ten years.  The fact that it’s something game developers are even thinking about, and implementing in their games is amazing, and makes me want to get back into gaming again.  I saw that even big companies, like Microsoft and Sony are putting text to speech controls in their consoles, and I’m hoping that the Switch will follow suit (though the HD Rumble is a step in the right direction).  Indi developers that think about how to adapt their games, and create games specifically for the blind isn’t something that I would see when I was a teenager and pre-teen, and it warms my heart to see that people are even thinking of how to make things easily available for everyone to play.
With that out of the way, I feel like making games without graphics isn’t exactly the right way to go with making games accessible.  I know being legally blind is a rather blanket term, but being legally blind, or visually impaired, doesn’t always mean someone is 100 percent blind.  There are people who have full sight out of one eye, have light perception, tunnel vision, peripheral vision, and so many other visual spectrums, that developers should account for.  Sure, a legally blind gamer who has sight in one eye but none in the other may like to play a game that doesn’t have any visuals, but they also may not care for that sort of game and want to play something that has graphics they can see to the best of their ability, to immerse them further in the gaming experience also available to their sighted peers.

 

Blindness is a term a lot of us use because it’s easiest to say instead of something like “I’m actually visually impaired, I can see colors and light perception” because to a lot of people, that’s hard for them to grasp.  I know I’ve seen a lot of blind gamers just say, give me good sound design in a Triple A title I’ll do the rest with my other senses.  For some, being able to magnify things is enough, while for others, the text to speech menu options are all they’d need.  Others would just need inverted color schemes, while others may prefer a fully audio, fully tactile game.

 

What I prefer in a game, is just to have the entire experience, like any normal game.  Sound design is fantastic nowadays:  I watch videos of games on YouTube, and can tell what’s going on just by the placement of the sound.  I don’t have any new gen consoles, but I can only imagine how easy it is to play and how immersive it is for a blind gamer.  I memorize where things are, or get sighted help from friends and family when something is too difficult, but overall that’s usually my gaming experience.  That being said, I love fighting games for how easy they are to just pick up and play.  Pick a mode, pick a fighter, and you’re good to go XD

 

Like I said, I’m super impressed, and happy to see the strides that developers, both big and small are taking towards gaming being doable for everyone.  But when I see a game that says it’s fully accessible, but is lacking in features, I’m always so conflicted.  I love that people are doing it, but at the same time, why not do it so it’s literally accessible to everyone?  Games like 1, 2, Switch are doing a good job of being playable for everyone, while not looking like it’s excluding anyone from being able to play, and I think that’s more what developers need to stride for as far as making a game fully accessible goes.  A no graphics, audio only game may be interesting, and a good game to have out there but at the end of the day it’s very niche and won’t be as interesting a game to play as say, a Final Fantasy game and I’d overall just like to see more access to games that are more mainstream.  Good steps in the right direction on all fronts though, very interested to see where game development for the blind and visually impaired will be going in the next few years.

 

Have any thought’s on the subject?  Would love to hear in the comments!